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8 Habits That Make or Break a Debt Free Journey

Moment of honesty: I created this list of habits that make or break a debt free journey pretty easily. Can you guess why?

Because it’s MY list. I’ve messed up on each one of these items at least once. ::cough:: Definitely more than once.

Over the last several years, I’ve developed some stronger habits, which ultimately led to my husband and I getting out of debt when I was 25. However, living a life of debt freedom doesn’t end with a paid off credit card. It’s a lifestyle.

In order for my husband and I to stay strong on our debt free journey (since we’re back in debt with our first mortgage), there are some habits we’ll need to keep practicing. If you’ve been down this road, then you know what I’m talking about.

This post has been written by Laura Harris, our fantastic staff writer.

8 Habits That Make or Break a Debt Free Journey

The following is a list of things to handle with care when it comes to your finances. Perhaps you’ve got a much better handle on these habits than I do half the time. That’s OK. We can still be friends. Maybe I should reword that. Can we still be friends? 😉

1. Spontaneous spending.

I always liked spontaneity. Planning always struck me as boring. I’ve grown to appreciate the wisdom in planning, but not without flushing the majority of my early paychecks down the spontaneity toilet.

Today, I combat the temptation to spend spontaneously in three ways:

  • Discussing a budget each month with my husband. It’s not the zestiest topic to undertake, but being able to afford our life and feed our kids is quite fantastic. Talking through the budget helps cut the sloppy spending immensely.
  • Cash envelopes. Yep, I’m a cash envelope fan. Why? Mainly because my debit card is SO easy to use. I overspend much easier with my card than with cold, hard cash disappearing from my envelopes.
  • Shopping smarter. Turns out I’m a guaranteed over-spender at the grocery store when I’m hungry (or just there for longer than five minutes). Lately, I’ve been shopping for all my groceries online using Kroger’s new shopping experience called ClickList. I place my order online and drive to Kroger the next morning. An attendant loads up my groceries and I drive away, grinning like an idiot. Grocery shopping with no kids, no shopping cart, no long hours, and no temptation to overspend? Yep, sign me up.

2. Living on the actual budget.

Alright, you’ve found it. My vice. It’s pretty easy to type some numbers onto a screen every month or to scribble some categories on a piece of paper. It’s quite another thing to implement the budget day in and day out.

There are a lot of great apps designed to help you track your spending. I’ve found that the greatest help to me was to check back in with my husband when I saw a derailment (or avalanche) happen. That accountability and support helped me create a better plan of attack next time.

3. Tracking the paper trail.

If you’re on a debt free journey, then you must keep track of your debts. It’s so easy to let them slip out of sight and out of mind, but make sure you don’t accidentally let one fall by the wayside.

Also, once you pay off a debt and close an account, make sure you check your credit report to see that it correctly reflects the change.

Keep your payoff statement so that you always have a hard copy on file. Do this especially if you negotiated a lower payoff amount. The last thing you want is for the creditor to accuse you of not paying your bills five years from now when you most certainly did.

4. Keeping the end of your debt free journey in mind.

One of the most powerful things runners can do during a long race is to visualize the finish line, right? (I’m not a runner so I’m honestly asking. Is that what they do?)

It’s the same thing with a debt free journey. My husband and I dared ourselves to pay off our $22,000 in debt in two years on a $48,000 income.

We did it in 22 months. It was a wobbling race, but it definitely went faster once we created that deadline.

Set a debt payoff date if you haven’t yet. Don’t let it discourage you if you’ve got student loans that seem like they’ll be with you forever. They won’t! Sure, it might take longer than our journey did, but your debt free date will be much shorter than “forever!” You owe yourself that.

5. Impulse sign-ups.

It’s never as simple as saving $15 on today’s shopping trip when you sign up for a credit card, is it? Not in my experience. Impulse sign-ups at the checkout counter or online aren’t evil, in and of themselves, but they can make or break your journey out of debt. Be mindful and use your signature wisely.

6. Irregular expenses.

Erg. I have a history of letting these erode my budget. Ever get thrown off track by any of these?

  • Car repairs
  • Home repairs
  • Subscriptions – i.e. Amazon Prime
  • Auto insurance
  • Property taxes
  • Celebrations – i.e. weddings, birthdays, and holidays
  • Supporting a friend’s business – i.e. LuLaRoe, KickStarter campaigns, or Young Living

Instead of letting these sneak up on you, add them to the budget and trickle money into those categories each month. If that means opening some checking accounts just for irregular expenses, then DO IT. That’s exactly what my husband and I did and I’m so glad!

7. Self-imposed boundaries.

It’s so much easier to drive down a road with lines painted down the sides and middle. Those boundaries are imposed by the city or state for your protection and for the protection of others.

Self-imposed boundaries, however, are a little tougher. I’m not saying you can’t drive down a road unless someone paints lines. I’m saying your debt elimination plan is the road and no one is on it but you (and your spouse if you’re married). If you add boundaries or not, only you will feel the effects. Makes it pretty easy to just go offroading, doesn’t it?

Instead, if you place a few realistic boundaries on, say, your credit card usage or your online shopping limit, then you’ll be much better off down that proverbial road.

8. Accountability and community.

The power of accountability is paramount on a debt free journey. This can be your spouse or a trusted friend. Having someone to keep you in check will push you to achieve the goals you want most, especially on the hardest of days. I’ve already shared with you some of my financial struggles – and the power accountability had on me.

Surrounding yourself with a community of like-minded debt eliminators is a fantastic idea, too. They may be in a financial class with you, in your job, or on social media. Several Facebook groups have grown out of this idea to become tightly-knit communities of support and advice regarding debt.

Here are a few Facebook communities you can join:

There are so many everyday decisions that make or break goals like debt freedom. I’ve messed up every one of these and still got out of debt. That means you can, too.

Remember: Don’t go it alone.

Of these 8 habits, which is the hardest for you to uphold on your debt free journey? Let us know in the comments below!

Battle of the Mind Budget Credit Cards Get Out of Debt Money

AUTHOR Derek Sall

Derek has a Bachelor's degree in Finance and a Master's in Business. As a finance manager in the corporate world, he regularly identified and solved problems at the C-suite level. Today, Derek isn't interested in helping big companies. Instead, he's helping individuals win financially--one email, one article, one person at a time.


  1. These habits are great. We try to ballpark our budget without putting in much effort, but I know that a lot of money slips through the cracks. That is something that we need to improve on in our finances if we want to achieve financial freedom. Also, another area that I didn’t realize that we need to work on is the self-imposed boundaries. I need to do a better job in this area. I realized that because I didn’t have boundaries, I was afraid to spend money on myself. I know that if I set up boundaries in this area, I will have less stress and fear to buy myself things that I need. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks so much, Wealth Well Done! I think the real boot camp for my own experience with self-imposed boundaries happened when I had kids. Talk about nonstop practice at setting boundaries, haha. Best wishes on your efforts toward financial freedom. It’s just one step in a better direction at a time!

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